Theo Valentin: Jazz stylist extraordinaire

Theo Valentin, ae

JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer

CLEARWATER — Her voice seems to soar to the ceiling as it encourages the audience to come along for the foot-tapping, finger popping journey. Then just as quickly she and that majestic voice can swallow one up in despair and sorrow.  Her mellow notes speak of love lost and times remembered.

Jazz stylist Theo Valentin (pronounced Valenteen) is a mixture of all emotions coming together to deliver a powerful performance. “I want someone to feel what I’m singing,” she stated.

She will be one of the featured artists at the 2014 Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

Theo Valentin Flyer, aeValentin has made the Tampa Bay area her home for more than 25 years.  She hails from Norfolk, Va., and was exposed to music at an early age by her mother.

“Me and my mom lived in the projects, but my mom always had our home filled with either gospel or jazz music,” she stated.  “She also made me harmonize on the songs with her,” Valentin said as she shared a childhood memory of when she would close herself off in her room, put on a blue light and pretend she was singing in a club.

Valentin started singing solos from the age of five in her church choirs, then high school groups and finally at Norfolk State University where she majored in voice with a minor in piano. More importantly it was there that she encountered her mentor that would change her life and impact her future.

She was in the school’s classical music program, but one day by chance she passed the classroom of Professor Consuela Lee Moorehead when the professor was teaching jazz piano.  Valentin immediately became enthralled.

“I was engrossed with her,” she stated.  “I would sit outside of her doorway to listen to her teach jazz.”

The student–teacher relationship endured through the years and she even sang at Moorehead’s funeral, who was the aunt of director/producer Spike Lee, at the iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church in New York.

Valentin is a jazz enthusiast for all styles of jazz.  She describes swing jazz as music to dance to, while straight ahead jazz as being “the improvisation of the talent coming out of the soul.”  Today’s contemporary or smooth jazz sound she feels is for a more “laid back ambiance.”

Valentin  is a sought after performer in the music industry and  has performed with many jazz masters including Tom Brown, Billy Taylor, Roy Ayers, Lonnie Liston Smith, George Benson, and Jean Carne.  She has also performed at premiere jazz clubs, venues and festivals across the nation and throughout the world including Japan, Turkey, and Egypt. Currently she is on tour with the legendary Norman Connors.

Valentin always pays homage to the jazz masters that have come before. “Nancy Wilson had a grace and a stage presence in the way she told a story through song.” She also praised Barbara Streisand’s voice: “you never wanted to miss one note of what she sang,” and credits the legendary Miles Davis for being an innovator who could “phrase his melodies and trumpet from the softest to the most intricate types of music.”

This will be Valentin’s third year performing at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. It is a venue that she says she loves. “I want to perform here in Florida because this is where I consider my home,” said the Tampa Bay resident. “I love to see and greet the people that have supported me.”

This is the 33th anniversary of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. The first festival was held in the back of a flatbed truck and now it is recognized as one of the premiere jazz festivals in the nation.

“I feel like God has sprinkled a little stardust on me,” she laughingly said. “I feel so grateful, I am overwhelmed.  If I didn’t have music I wouldn’t know what to do.  I am grateful that God gave me the gift of a voice.”

Theo Valentin will be performing on Fri., Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Festival. Go to www.clearwaterjazz.com for more information.

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